Jeff needed to head to Cordoba to pick something up. Something that couldn’t be shipped. And he asked me if I wanted to tag along. Heck yeah! Being an American, and that long road trips are in our DNA, I had my bag packed in 5 minutes and was waiting by the front door at … Read more We Just Popped Down to Cordoba
Today was a day. A monumental day. Jeff got the vaccine. And we did a few other things, too. It started out early, and only 6 hours later we were home again. I like to be early to things. To me, being late is disrespectful and just plain dumb. The early bird catches the worm. … Read more The Beginning of the End
Under the heading of ‘What can go wrong, will go wrong’, the last 12 hours have been interesting. It felt a little like we were Tina Fey and Steve Carell in the movie ‘Date Night’. How can so many things stack up against you? We were spending a quiet evening at home watching ‘Drunk History’ … Read more The Hooker and a Bone Scan
I’ve been told I have a ‘Justice Complex’. But I figure if there is one complex to have, justice is not a bad one. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s bullies and boundary-crossers. People who think it’s OK to intentionally make other people’s lives less wonderful, and sometimes much harder, than they need to be. And I just won’t have it. Read more I’m Probably Going to Hell for This
When we moved to Valencia, everything was different. I felt so bombarded by the differences that any subtlety or shades of grey were completely missed. The things we were dealing with were all primary colors and right in our faces. Now that we’ve lived in Spain for 16 months, I notice other things. Jeff talked … Read more The Power of Disconnection
We’ve had a lot of family stuff going on lately and it’s consumed most of my energy. I’ll be heading back to the US soon to be in the mix. But before that, we headed out to take a little break. It may seem strange since we live on the Med, but stepping back is important during times of stress, and since life varies at different points on the Mediterranean (even in Spain) – thinking north and east – we decided some time away was in order.
Luckily, we didn’t need to go far, since everything in Europe is so close. Mostly, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. But this trip included some of my favorite things.
A Place I LOVE!
Lots of ruins
A favorite beach
Introducing Jeff to a place he’s never been
Tarragona is just south of Barcelona, right on the Med. It’s easily accessible by train so no stressful flight delays. This time, catching the train, we did the very Spanish thing and arrived right as boarding began. This means 20 minutes before it leaves (that’s when they assign the track). Highly unusual for us, since we’re always early to everything. (As though a train or plane will come sooner than expected). I was in a ‘I just don’t care, even if we miss the train we’ll catch the next one’ mode.
The other wonderful part of it is that where we stayed had ZERO wifi and the city has terrible cell service. I’m not sure why getting a signal was so touch and go, but it meant we were out of communication for days.
If you’re thinking of visiting – I would recommend visiting the Amphitheater first. There you can purchase an all-inclusive ticket for the main sites in the city. These include the Amphitheater, Forum, Murallas, Circus, Tower (Necropolis) and the Archaeological museum (although it’s under renovation and closed now – luckily I have been before). There are palaces within the walled city and other sites not requiring a ticket. I would highly suggest walking the entire perimeter of the walls around the old city.
The history of ‘Tarroco’ goes back thousands of years. It was a key city in the Roman Empire. Rich, well positioned, easily defensible. The city was a classic Roman city, and since then changed hands many times. Visigoths, Moors, French – it was so important it became a military target where empires invested in expensive sieges, and the very costly occupation of unwilling populations. As we know today in most of our current military conflicts around the world – it will not end well. Winning a war is one thing. Winning the peace is quite another.
No matter how many times I visit a place I always learn something new. Perhaps we filter information differently at different times. Changing our focus. But as an enthusiastic student of history, I’m always looking for new insights. This time when visiting the remains of the Roman circus, there were new plaques. They explained how the chariot races were were staged. How rich Romans paid for the races – gave away tickets for free – and their social standing was based on how many of the poor peasants showed up. Basically, just like today with social media and harvesting ‘Likes’. We are all still the same people we were more than 2,000 years ago. Our reptilian brains haven’t evolved that much. The Kardashians immediately came to mind. No matter how rich, they still need to be loved by the masses.
Another thing we learned about is that the social system in The Roman Empire was all about continually leveling the playing field. Rise too high – become too rich, too influential – and eventually, the state would seize all your possessions. They feared any consolidation of power through money and influence. But social breakdowns started keeping this from happening and the fall of Rome was inevitable as the peasantry rose up.
Jeff has usually, very reluctantly, embraced my historical forays, but as we walked through this history, he was struck by the parallels to what’s going on in the US today. Much like the Romans, we seem to be imploding; hoisting ourselves on our own petard. And walking through Tarragona, you are literally walking ON history. You can’t miss the buildings built precariously on the past. I’m not sure what their building codes have historically been, but some of these more modern structures appear to be perched – ripe for an earthquake to take them out. But so far, so good.
Anyway, it was a relaxing time away. Much needed. Who knows what the future holds. But whenever things get too crazy today, a little visit to the past is what my heart needs.
We are in Bilbao. Fallas Refugees. We’ve met so many people lately who are Fallas Virgins. They can’t believe we are leaving to escape ‘All the Fun!’. I’ve been called a ‘fuddy duddy’ and a ‘buzz kill’. But they’ll learn the closer we get to March 19th when all hell breaks loose. I heard from an experienced expat that they passed a new law this year; now they can’t shoot off sanctioned fireworks between 2:30 and 7am. Whew! A whole 4 1/2 hours of sleep coming right up. It’s really that last week when it’s non-stop and the entire city goes nuts, and ‘sanctioned’ isn’t really the issue.
So we fled. And boy are we glad. Full nights sleep and a lovely vacation to Northern Spain. Bilbao is a city on the north coast, right on the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean. Its the beating heart of the Basque region. Culturally, and culinarily, it’s very different than Valencia. And Basque is a language that is nothing like Spanish or Valenciano.
I fell in love with Navarra when walking the Camino, so it feels wonderful to be back in the region. The Camino Frances doesn’t go through Bilbao. You have to walk the Camino del Norte if you want to do that. And just like so many other places in Spain, the flights from Valencia to Bilbao were cheaper than one way train tickets from Valencia to Barcelona. Who can pass up 7.99 euro airline tickets? Not me!
We are staying downtown near the Guggenheim Art Museum, It’s look alike cousin in Seattle, the famed EMP, (Experience Music Project) means that its architecture is something familiar to us. We will spend a day exploring their current collections in a few days.
The architecture in Bilbao is part 20th century Spanish, part 18th and 19th century cross European, blended with 21st century creative genius, and up on the surrounding hills they look more Swiss village. It’s wet, green and cold with dappled sunlight. Jeff is in heaven. One guy told me this time last year they were under feet of snow. Hmm.
The signs are in Spanish and Basque. Sometimes in Ingles too. Driving here is A LOT easier than in Valencia. Wider roads that makes sense. Imagine! Getting from the airport to town took maybe 20 minutes door to door and I’m happy to report even with me driving there was no swearing, tears or recriminations. When we arrived we saw that Valencia isn’t the only city in Spain to celebrate the Spring equinox. There is a festival in town and marchers for international Women’s Day. Lots of people out and about and rides with the requisite Churroteria to make the celebration that much sweeter – and deep fried.
We haven’t scratched the surface of the area yet but the blend of old and new has our attention and we are ready to hit the ground running exploring and, of course, looking at real estate. So far so good.
We left Derry and made our way back to Dublin. I’ve finally figured out the roads – what the letters mean – so we used the wider cow paths to get there – mostly uneventfully. I won’t lie, I’ll miss being called ‘Love’, ‘Pet’ or ‘Darlin” liberally sprinkled in any sentence that addressed me for the length of the country.
We fell in love with Derry so it was a little bitter sweet to leave it behind. The people in NI were lovely. We heard more Gaelic spoken the further North we went. Even though it’s UK. So happy that they’re keeping the language alive and it’s spoken on the street – not just in schools or at special occasions.
But we got plenty of sweets on our last day. Ireland makes donuts and ice cream one of the main food groups. We saw it all over the country and while Northern Ireland is technically the UK, they embrace it there too.
At Taboo Donuts I was a few pence short – I had winnowed my British pounds down knowing we were leaving the country. The woman understood.
‘No worries, love. I’ll just take 60 pence from the jar and if I see ya again, then I see ya. If not, no one leaves here without donuts.’
Of course, I went back to the hotel and found 60p in a pocket and brought it to her. How nice is that?!
Joe Jacksons ice cream was to die for. Lots of gluten free options and the scoop size is first rate. The place we stayed in Derry was, again, very traditional. Like our authentic coal burning Christmas in Mayo, our Derry Georgian New Year was a little smaller and more compact than we had planned. The pictures online were not accurate. So we were happy to move on back to Dublin to stay at more accommodating accommodations. An old Ducal Palace.
We headed first to Trinity College Dublin to see The Book of Kells. It’s a bible written many centuries ago – like a thousand years – on velum. But honestly, I was kind of ‘Meh’ on it. Not because it wasn’t beautiful or important, but after going to the Templar Castle in Ponferrada on my Camino in Northern Spain, where they have an entire library of such bibles and other books, it seemed a bit over-hyped.
But I did LOVE the library above where the the book is housed. It’s like what you expect all libraries in the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries were like. With ladders and such. Women had to get permission to enter back then, all knowledge being for the Men and all. They have displays of some of their most famous female graduates that fought for their right to study and graduate from Trinity College. Ironically, Trinity was initially funded by Queen Elizabeth I, so honoring women just seems natural.
After pulling me out of the library, Jeff and Em and I walked to the river to see the EPIC museum. This is the Irish Emigration Museum. Emigration and Ireland are intertwined. Due to famine, oppression, war, and economic hardship, the Irish have been spread throughout the world seeking a better life. EPIC does an amazing job telling that story.
We were astounded and moved by the stories from artists, engineers, politicians, athletes and much more, who have changed the world by sharing their gifts with the rest of the world. But the one thing that moved me the most happened after we were done viewing the exhibit.
Of course, you exit through the gift shop – just like every where else. But tucked behind the elevator is the Irish Heritage center. For 12,50 euro they give you access to their data bases. And you can sit right down and look it all up.
We had heard from others in Northern Ireland that Jeff’s last name, Darragh, could be the same as the city Derry. Derry is Royal Oak – only in Irish (Gaelic) its pronounced Darragh. It’s not spelled that way in Gaelic but upon entering Ellis Island, the officers spelled people’s names how ever they liked.
So the lady at EPIC started helping us and we got no where. Jeff isn’t close to his Dad or that side of the family. A lot happened there after his parent’s divorce and it’s like a third rail. He doesn’t touch it. But this lady didn’t know that and kept asking questions. I could tell she was coming close to the third rail. And then something happened.
There, all of a sudden, was a record of his grandfather via his Uncle Paige – who we discovered wasn’t named Paige at all. Which led to other records and more relatives. And suddenly we were looking at the immigration record of his 9 year old great-great grandmother who was from Northern Ireland (where we had just been), and had boarded a ship alone during the Great Famine – sent to live in America with relatives. It takes ‘Unaccompanied Minor’ to a whole new level. Jeff was overcome.
And there was the ship’s manifest for his great-great grandfather – her eventual husband – who came from County Clare a few years later. It was all there in black and white, this 18 year old kid who made the crossing for a better life.
But there was something else. Jeff was very close to his grandparents when he was little. His grandfather owned a music store, and when ever we go into one here, Jeff always talks about him. What a kind man he was. And how much he loved his grandmother. Well in that data base in Dublin, they had a photo of his grandparent’s graves. Jeff had never seen or been to the graves before. He had tried to find out where they were but no one seemed to know. And yet here we were, 7 thousand miles away and he was looking at them. I’ve never seen him so struck. Still waters really do run very deep.
We had another place to hit on our list and the museum was closing so we had to go. Jeff was quiet on our walk to the Jameson Distillery. It was a lot to process. I saw this on a wall on our way and it seemed to say it all. Across time and across miles, love doesn’t diminish. Even if those we love are gone.
We would go to both the Jameson Distillary and The Guiness Store house. Both are kind of must-see touristy things to do. But I definitely prefer Jameson’s and would skip Guinness as being a little too over the top.
Jameson’s was started in 1780. They are still making whiskey in Cork and I felt like I connected with their story more because of how small an operation it still really is. Sure, they make whiskey and ship it all over the world. You can buy it anywhere. But the people working there took so much pride in the operation and the legacy, well, it just struck me as more authentic.
Maybe it was the family motto of Arthur Jameson. It mean’s ‘Without Fear’ and as a Scottish Immigrant coming to Ireland to make whiskey from his own sweat and hard work, I liked it. Perhaps I’ll borrow that.
By contrast, Guinness feels HUGE. But of course they do. They’re everywhere, in every pub in Ireland. I had started taking pictures of the ads I saw on buildings all over the country. The message was clear ‘Guiness is good for you’ and it actually said it in one sign. It was always the working man’s drink – a reward after a hard day’s labor. But in Ireland, ‘the drink’ has a darker history.
But the view from the bar at the top of the Guinness Storehouse is not to be missed. The rest of it – Meh. You can see that it’s above the cloud bank looking out through the window in the first photo. Jeff enjoyed a pint too.
Our last stop before Em was due to fly out was Murphy’s Ice Cream. This was a must see for Emilie. She had watched ‘Somebody Feed Phil’ on Netflix this summer and when we told her we were going to Ireland she said ‘We need to go to that place he had ice cream’. So we did.
Murphy’s is a County Dingle company with a few locations sprinkled in the south of the country. They make some traditional favorites but specialize in crazy flavors like Sea Salt and Brown Bread. And that’s what Emilie ordered.
The staff are absolutely wonderful Brand ambassadors and we enjoyed chatting with them as much as eating the ice cream. An American couple came in and the kid behind the counter said ‘Hey, weren’t you here yesterday?’
The man looked incensed. ‘No’ he replied very cranky. As though the kid were implying that he was there too often.
‘Ach, too bad. You see, we give all our customers who come a second time free ice cream.’
That made the guy laugh.
This interaction is so typical of our whole trip. The Irish just have a way about them. They smile, they laugh, they cajole. You can’t be mad. We were on our way to the airport but had to make a stop to pick up another suit case. Yes, I finally admitted I had done a little shopping.
We parked on Merrion Square (Oscar Wilde called it home) and were walking into the main shopping areas. On the square, artist hang their canvases on the black fences and sell their work to passersby. It’s been going on for a long time and this square fronts the Irish National Gallery so it’s no wonder. Some of the artists are talented beyond what I ever hope to achieve with my dabbling, and they’re selling their art for peanuts.
But they’re also starving artists and they can be aggressive in their pitch. One old man – who’s canvases and those of his son are something I would be proud to hang in any home, sang me an Irish love song while trying desperately to get me to load up my, as yet, newly acquired suit case with a canvas or two of his work.
I’ve decided I’m going to create a gallery on this site for all our adventures. I’ve got too many photos that won’t fit into my blog posts. But then, after just scratching the surface of Ireland, I’m pretty sure there aren’t enough photos or blogs to capture the beauty and the people. We will be back.
*Still doing this on my phone. Formatting, etc. May be wonky.
Derry is a vibrant walled city with the old and new working side by side. Traffic and people weave through the gates; tourists and locals walk the top of the wall. Life is good here.
The walled city sits on an island hill that used to be surrounded by water entirely. Several centuries ago the river sort of sank a few feet. Hence ‘the Bogside’ neighborhood. And ‘the Waterside’. No longer an easily defensible island with a natural mote.
Derry is the only walled city in Europe whose walls were never breached by an enemy. And they were under seige here plenty. There is an actual Siege Museum to walk you thru the details, complete with armour and starvation descriptions aplenty to ensure you skip lunch. But not Guiness or a Savingnon Blanc. We’re not that disturbed.
Short version: Surprise! The English colonized Ireland in the 1500’s with their protestant Scottish cousins. They kicked the Irish Catholics off their land and formed plantations. ‘Plantations’. Now where have I heard that before? Hmm. This is known as ‘The Plantation of Ireland.’ It was systematic oppression and colonialism.
Lots of rebellions by the local native population took place, so the English ringed the city in a wall with gates to allow commerce to flow. But also to maximize defense from local riff raff. Only Anglo-Scots were allowed to live inside. Other Catholic crown heads of Europe took umbrage over this and that – bada bing, bada boom – siege!
And like most sieges, it left a big impression on the population. The mayor of the town at the time said essentially ‘Hey, so I’ll pop out for milk. You guys stay here and guard the town during this ‘siege thing’. Promise I’ll be back.’ The milk got lost in the royal mail. (Insert Crying Over Spilt Milk reference here).
The town starved brutally during the siege so even today, every year, they take great pride in constructing effigies of this gentleman, then hanging and burning them. And I thought my family could hold a grudge. We got nothin’ on these people. There is even an effigy guide in the local Tower Museum to help the next generation make sure their effigy is the most accurate and humiliating as possible. Lest they forget.
The walls are the transit system here. Its a little over a mile all the way around. We are staying right on the wall so we just hop up and we are off where ever we need to go. No traffic to contend with and the views are lovely.
Just up the wall from us is The Cathedral of St. Columba. It’s the first Protestant cathedral built after the Reformation (Martin Luther starting the Protestant church). Its old. They wanted me to pay for a ‘photo license’ to take pictures of the inside, so I don’t have any. Never been asked to do this in any church in the world, and I’m not starting now. It wasn’t as spectacular as our little church in Benimaclet, but it was nice enough.
In the vestibule, where you can take photos without a license, is the cannonball used by the Catholic army to shoot over the wall. It has a hole where they stuffed the terms of surrender. Heads up! Siege mail incoming!
The graveyard outside the cathedral peaked Jeff’s interest for walking thru and reading old tomb stones. It’s his favorite activity in small villages.
Here are a few photos of walking the wall and some of the sights from it.
We have discovered little Alleys and warrens in the city. Full of businesses run by women.
Derry is the poster child for the working woman, in my opinion. Shirt factories were in full swing here. 18,000 women worked in them in this area at one time in the 19th and 20th centuries. There was little work for Catholic men so the women were the breadwinners.
One of our elderly guides told us his mother worked in one. Another co-workers came to work 9 months pregnant and had her baby during her shift. The other women hid them and made sure to pick up the slack on her quota of collars for the day and such, or they would have fired her. The woman was back on the line the next day working. Without the baby. If she had taken a day off she would have lost her place. The women-run businesses here today are a tribute to those women in the factories working 12 hour days to support their families.
We will miss ‘Womens Little Christmas’ on January 6th. Its when women, on one day a year, have traditionally left the housework and kids to the hubby and go out with their friends for the day. I love how the advert advises booking early to ‘avoid disappointment’. I think the women here have known disappointment for centuries.
We are off back to Dublin tomorrow to see a few of the last must-see sights before heading home to Spain, and seeing Em off back to school in the US. We’ve checked off so many things in our lists this holiday.
We picked up her prom dress and shoes here yesterday. I’m pretty sure no other girl will be wearing the same thing at her school. Whew! Prom dress shopping is too important to leave it to an online experience. And it’s a Mom/daughter milestone I didn’t want to miss. She’ll go back with all the things she needs for the next few months.
After one more cross country drive tomorrow. This marking on a Derry street pretty much sums up how that will go.
We will thoroughly enjoy the last few days in this beautiful country.
I’ve traveled to conflict zones over the course of my adult life. Some have been boiling over while I was there. Others quietly simmering.
Like in the Middle East, being stopped at checkpoints controlled by a militia who stationed a 12 year old boy sitting on a bucket to ask why we want to travel a road, while clutching a machine gun. You’ll consider your life choices in moments like that.
There was the DMZ (demilitarized zone) between North and South Korea when we had one of our guys shot down on the North side of the border. Having to register with the embassy in Seoul in case it all went pear shaped. With tensions running so high messages were perpetually flashing across the tv as warnings on how to evacuate the country.
Other places with long simmering conflicts like a divided Cyprus with the Turks and Greeks were not so scary. Just inconvenient.
But being here, what happened such a short time ago seems very real and is still very raw. I remember seeing stories on the news in the 70’s and 80’s, but the American press cared more about Middle East conflicts, where oil mattered above all else, to pay attention to what was happening in Northern Ireland. In the US, most people considered it a backwater – irrelevant.
As a refresher, back in the 60’s, as the rest of the world was fighting for civil rights – the Northern Irish Republicans (mostly Catholics) wanted their rights in Londonderry. They marched and protested peacefully. The British government cracked down hard, sending troops ‘for 3 months’ to crush the insurrection. They stayed for 38 years. It started here and Derry became ground zero for ‘The Troubles’- really a civil war.
Republicans wanted gerrymandering of elections that disenfranchised them to end, and elected officials to stop oppressing them. They wanted to be united with the rest of Ireland and govern themselves. The loyalist to the English crown liked things to stay as they were. But they were sorely outnumbered in Northern Ireland 2 to 1 then, and still are. There are just 2% of them left in the walled city of Londonderry and right outside the gate you can see their passion for their views today
They’ve painted the curbs in the colors of the British flag to show their Unionist support.
The Free Derry Museum tells the story of the time. Guided only by relatives of those killed in the conflict. It sits amongst a series of street murals done by ‘Free Derry Artists’ on buildings known as ‘The Peoples Gallery’ in an area called The Bogside, below the town wall where the Catholic slum used to reside. Where ‘Bloody Sunday’ (Yea, thats what the U2 song was about) occurred in Jan 1972 when British troops (by British PM David Cameron’s own admission) attacked unarmed peaceful protestors killing 28. The town went mad! The protest movement spread like wildfire across Ireland and the current incarnation of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was born.
Walking amongst the murals is eerie. Like a graveyard. So much happened here, so little time ago. The mural of the little school girl is particularly poignant. Annete McGavigan was sent to get bread by her Mam when she was shot in the head by a British soldier. The first child of over 100 that would die in the conflict. The mural shows the stones she had collected for a school project that were in her pocket. They say her Father came and stood in front of it every day until he passed recently. He talked to her picture to tell her about his day.
Added to this mural, after the Good Friday accords that stopped the conflict in the 90’s, is a destroyed weapon. And a Butterfly. Two brothers who lost their brother in Bloody Sunday asked for it to be added to symbolize rebirth.
The other murals depict scenes and people from the period. The final one is the dove in the shape of Ireland. Celebrating all colors, religions and people in peace.
The EU erected a Peace Bridge here too. To symbolize their commitment to supporting peace in NI. But now there is Brexit. If you know anything about the debacle that is Brexit, you know Northern Ireland is a sticking point. Free Movement from the North to the rest of Ireland is part of the Good Friday accords. Brexit has rattled the people here. They’ve seen and been through too much. They don’t want ‘The Troubles’ to return. But they won’t accept a hard border to the south.
We had heard in the south that the feelings here are still raw. And they are. Like most geopolitical conflicts in the world, we in the US are so far from them we struggle to relate. We just turn off the tv and say ‘Uch. I’m tired of seeing that.’ Its a luxury other people, and other countries, don’t have. And these ‘little regional conflicts’ have very real, very global consequences for us all – whether we like it or not.
If Derry teaches us anything its that violence, walls and oppression are temporary solutions and not long term strategies for peace. Dialog, listening and a willingness to change our views, as times change, are the only way forward.
After David Cameron stood on parliament in 2010 and read the government report on Bloody Sunday – profoundly apologizing for it and taking responsibility, Derry and Northern Ireland held its breath. Large screens had been set up in town squares throughout Ulster to view it. It was a national event. Afterwards the news cameras were trained on an old woman whose husband was the last person killed that Sunday, 40 years before. Amongst tear gas he had come out of a doorway to help a boy who was on the street, shot and crying for his Mom. They shot her husband thru the eye as he tried to help the boy.
The cameras shoved in her face, they asked his elderly wife what she would do if she had David ‘bloody’ Cameron standing in front of her right then. She said she would invite him in for a cuppa tea. ‘Its enough now.’ She told them. And the collective breathed a sigh of relief.
One man told me he was spoiling for a fight that day. Waiting for the English to shirk responsibility, again. ‘But if she can forgive, then so can I.’ I find that old woman’s example profoundly moving.
There are other amazing sights to be seen here. I’ll post those at another time, but on a day like New Years Eve, when we typically reflect on things, this deserves it’s own. Its that important.
We are spending our last week in Ireland in Derry or Londonderry. Depending upon your political point of view. More on that in another post. So it was the moment to see the Giant’s Causeway.
This basalt rock phenomenon occurs on the Northern coast of Ireland. If you require a little courage before your visit you can stop in Bushmill for a wee dram before you get to the truly majestic scenery a couple miles down the road. I say ‘miles’ because here in Northern Ireland its miles not kilometers. There was no sign when we crossed from Ireland to the UK/Northern Ireland welcoming us to a new country, except the one telling us that now we were calculating speed signs in miles. But our car only had kilometers. So we were doing backwards calculations to figure out how not to speed or go too slow.
In Ireland there are speed signs every 10 meters – even the farmers driveway doubling as an Irish expressway. In Northern Ireland they tell you the speed once at the border with a hearty ‘Good Luck guessing it on the rest of these god-forsaken roads.’
We made our way to the Giant’s Causeway over hill and dale, but it was worth it. From Derry it’s an hour drive. I’d tell you the distance but it doesn’t matter. Distance here means nothing. Its time that matters. 28 kilometers can take you an hour as Google routes you through the parking lot of a welding workshop, only to find the one lane track you were on previously picks up on the other side. You think I’m kidding. Sadly, not. Jeff checked to see if there was a setting to stop this nonsense, but if we turned it off in the app we would never be able to leave the country.
The GC is part of The National Trust of the UK. The Trust was set up in the late 19th century to save historically significant buildings and locales. They do good work and The Giants Causeway is head and shoulders their biggest draw every year. Heading for 3/4 of a million visitors annually. After seeing this area there is no mystery as to why.
It’s set up well with minimal impact to the environment. The visitors center is tasteful and not an ‘Exit Thru the Giftshop’ type of experience. If you’re a member of The National Trust its free. For a family that’s about 100£ per year. A bargin when planning on seeing other culturally significant places throughout the UK.
We did the self guided tour with the head sets, but could have waited the 40 minutes for the guided tour that is also included in the ticket. It was awe inspiring.
The place was created by lava flows, chemical weathering, and time. The hexagonal rocks and pillars are otherworldly.
The walk down to see them is stunning.
The Irish legend goes something like this. There was a giant called Finn. He created Ireland and he was pissed at a Scottish giant who wanted to threaten his land. So he threw the hexagonal stones into the sea to scare his foe, who used them as a bridge or causeway to run across the sea from Scotland to fight Finn. Well, Finn saw him coming and was shocked by his size. He knew he was outmatched so he ran home to his wife, and cried like a baby.
She knew just what to do and wrapped Finn up, swaddling him like a baby and put him in bed. The other giant found his way to their cottage and asked the wife where her husband was so they could fight. She told him Finn was out. But he searched the cottage anyway and heard ‘the baby’ crying – it was Finn afraid to death. But the other giant thought ‘If this is the baby, then his father must be huge!’. So he ran back to Scotland, tearing up the causeway with his footsteps. There are similar basalt pillars on the Scottish side today to prove the story.
In fact, about 60k yrs ago, lava flowed and formed these pillars. It took 40k yrs for the pillars to interlock. Hexagons are some of the strongest and most frequently occurring shapes in nature. Think honeycombs and tortoise shells.
We walked up to the Giant’s Pipe Organ, said to be heard once a year at 6am on Christmas morn. Then headed up top, via nearly one million stairs straight up, to make our way back. Hoping not to drive to Derry in the dark. The views continued to amaze the whole way. You could easily spend an entire day there.
Well worth a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site. And a strong recommendation on the Bushmills. The town is adorable – you might consider staying there for a night. More importantly, you might need a break from driving out there from Derry. But this is wild Ireland at its most raw and beautiful. Not to be missed.
First off, renting a car at the Dublin airport mimicked buying a used car on Aurora Avenue in Seattle. It felt like we were haggling with a used car salesman for insurance, transmission and tire coverage. If he’d mentioned ‘clear coat’ I would have gone ballistic. We needed a shower after.
The swearing started directly after the airport, and our wake has been littered with profanity throughout the country ever since. Jeff has made up some new ones and I’m pretty sure ‘Kelli!!’ isn’t just my name any more.
And, as luck would have it, I was driving our automatic rental car and it stalled, almost permanently, in the middle if an Irish round about! We did a ‘Chinese fire drill’ like we used to do in high school; Jeff ran around and hopped in. He jiggled some stuff, a lot of grinding later – much honking from behind – and we moved it to the side of the road.
Here’s where I both bitch about and, well sort of, praise Hertz rental cars. They made us limp it to the West Ireland airport. So wrong. Again, there was prolific swearing during this procedure. Then they swiftly gave us another car. But the new one was a huge luxury car we didn’t ask for, and it was a manual transmission. I can’t drive a manual and me learning it in Ireland was highly discouraged by the rental car guy. Under normal circumstances the upgrade would be welcome. Even the stick. But we are in Ireland sooo yeah, NO!
The roads here – if not on an expressway or carriageway- are of three clear classifications.
Allow me to explain.
Shit! roads have a line down the middle of one variety or another. It’s never consistent. In theory, these roads are supposed to contain cars traveling opposite each other on either side of that painted divider. But not when you’re traveling in your gigantic car you never asked for or possibly wanted. Short of scraping our left side on the ancient stone walls, hedgerows and houses we whiz by, we count our lucky stars to survive them. But even in a Citroen C1 the lane would be inadequate.
Oh Shit!! roads are those that are 3/4 the width of Shit! roads but without the lovely line you were laughing at and mocking just 15 seconds and one turn ago. But now you miss that line, and the extra two feet of roadway with no shoulder. Now you’d sell everything you have for that line. But even if you could allow yourself a moment to scrape together all your worldly possessions, there would not be one place to turn out to hand them over. Just sheep fields, and the sheep are just looking at you with thinly veiled contempt.
The speed limit sign will say 80 on this stretch of tarmac- and your fellow travelers will strive to achieve it. On these roads I recommend only driving with one eye open – like a pirate. You’ll see death coming as you hold your breath and grimace, but from only one side of your body. The other side will be blissfully ignorant.
Holy Shit!!! roads are like snow flakes. Each one is unique and are never replicated in all of human history. These remarkable gems are, however, not rare AT ALL in Ireland. So much so that Google maps thinks they’re normal roads and will route you down them with abandon, even when your rental car needs to get to the regional airport, post haste, to die. These one lane tracks with stone walls and hedgerows growing over the top will require you to put your mirrors in so as not to rip them off the car at the whole 30km per hour top speed you’re traveling. But then this adds in a little Irish mischief. I mean, why not?! When your neighbor, or his cow, meet you on the Holy Shit!!! road, there is no turn out – just a wet bog on either side. You’re trapped unless you go back. What can you do?
But here is when the Irish do something that is only hinted at in literature and legend. Never speak this secret to anyone, but all Irish people are leprechauns. Don’t believe me? Then how do they always find themselves in my rearview mirror after meeting head on, on the Oh Shit!! and Holy Shit!!! roads? Its leprechaun magic. Plain and simple.
That and I’m pretty convinced that all these churches are to stop and pray for your life while driving. When cars were invented it must have filled more than a few pews.
‘Please God, it’s me Patrick Seamus Micheal O’Malley. I just got my driving license. Not driving that one horse trap anymore. So well…you know, I’m gonna a need fair bit of that leprechaun magic. Here’s a fiver for the collection plate.’
There are ZERO straight roads in Ireland. Google maps will make them appear straight but it’s a lie. They don’t exits. Just like pots of gold at the end of rainbows. When you get there, the promised straight road disappears to a narrowing winding deathtrap you’ll slalom through, like the alpine downhill outrunning an avalanche.
Reading signs has been interesting too. Yesterday, when we came upon a couple of head scratchers Jeff asked me what they meant.
‘How do I know?’ I asked him. Like I’d studied the Irish driving manual.
‘Uh, you just took the written test in Spain, and studied for it like the bar exam’
What was he thinking? ‘I only know Spanish road signs. Duh.’
‘These are signs valid in the entire EU. They’re symbols – not words’.
‘Well, I didn’t see that one in my book.’ I hate it when he’s right. ‘Just assume it’s a cliff and don’t go there.’
Now, I can’t drive here anymore, cause of the stick thing. Much to Jeff’s both angst and elation. He did a lot of shifting away from his side of the car, wincing, and ‘Oh my God’ing when I was driving. He would call out frequently ‘Did you see that?!? How did you not hit that?!?’ Quite a bit during my time behind the wheel. I know exactly what it is but I’ll never tell him. I have just enough Irish in me for some residual leprechaun magic. And, I find in most circumstances, a little leprechaun magic is all it usually takes.
I’ve heard them all. And of course, they’re true. I’m not perfect. Far, very far from it. And since I’ve heard horror stories of ugly Americans, when traveling, we try to go out of our way to be culturally sensitive and respectful. Do I love everything about living here? No. I miss some stuff, and some of it’s doesn’t make sense to me. We choose to live in Spain because we like it here better than we did back in the US. Jeff reminded me the other day it was his idea, after all.
We’ve lived here nearly 8 months now and I’m fed up. ‘With the Spanish?’ you might ask. But my answer would be an emphatic ‘NOOOO.’ I’m fed up with British and the arrogance I witness, over hear and generally experience from these people every freaking day. It’s very clear many British Expats – or even holiday maker – is under the misapprehension that Imperialism is still an actual thing.
Now, as a caveat, we have some friends here who are Brits. But sometimes even they will say things that make me go ‘Hmmm’.
Today Jeff and I headed to the beach for our morning coffee. It’s been super stormy here and the beach was festooned with mostly locals running. And the waves were huge. The Med is usually pretty calm and flat. This morning it looked more like Manzanita – the small beach town in Oregon where we used to go in the summer when I was a kid. Big angry swells and crashing waves. We watched the Spanish Coast Guard perform a real rescue of a wind surfer.
I was wearing my Pendleton fisherman’s sweater. It wasn’t warm out. And then a flock of tourists came by. We knew they were tourists before we could hear them because they all had large red beach towels with the word ‘ENGLAND’ emblazoned across it hanging around their necks, like they were part of the same flock of red faced birds, to be observed from afar. Then one of them decided that he needed to take a wee and promptly relieved himself all over a stack of beach chairs where we rent loungers in the summer. To say we were actually pissed off is an understatement! How dare he? But we knew they dared – they’re English, and they told us so!
Recently, Brexit has been a large part of the convo around here. It’s become an obsession since so many British citizens live in Spain. They speculate about it, and rant and rave about their Prime Minister’s botched Brexit job. We aren’t ones to talk. with our own country in such a freaking mess right now, so we usually just listen.
‘Well, I just don’t see why we have to follow all those laws the EU would come up with. I mean we’re not all supposed to smoke in cafe’s now. It’s the law in EU and in Britain we follow the law. But you’ll notice in Spain they don’t. They just ignore what they don’t like. That’s why I voted to leave.’
My eyes narrowed.
‘You voted to leave the EU because Britain is following EU laws around smoking in outdoor cafe’s, and Spain isn’t?’
I was dumbfounded. ‘First off, you don’t smoke.’
‘I know.’ they said ‘but other people do.’
‘Yes .’ I said ‘But I don’t want to have to smoke other people’s cigarettes while I have a coffee. So it’s good Britain is enforcing it. And secondly, you live in Spain. And you want to stay here, with no guarantee that you’ll be able to after Brexit. So you voted against your own self interest, so that Brits you don’t live near can smoke in Britain, in outside in cafes?’
But the capper for us was over hearing a rowdy group of English (I’m hoping on holiday and not locals) in a cafe we frequent. Now my Spanish is not good. And after being away for a month it didn’t get better. But I do what I can and I muddle through. One thing I don’t do is shout louder in English when I encounter someone who doesn’t speak any of my native tongue. But this group of jolly, rather inebriated, assholes did just that. And when the waitress walked away they said something that is the cherry on the ethnocentric cake that seems all too common with those from the British Isles.
‘Spain would be so much better if there weren’t so many Spaniards.’ Loudly, and then they all laughed and agreed wholeheartedly that yes, indeed, it’s the Spanish that ruin Spain because they’re all lazy and they don’t speak English. We got the check and paid. While walking ever so close to their table to leave I said – not so much under my breath.
‘I disagree – I just think it’s all the fucking assholes who come here and forget to pack the manners Mummy tried, and failed, to teach them.’ And we left quickly before I was tackled by a guy who clearly played a game or two of rugby at school.
This week I saw the article about how Spain will surpass Japan in life expectancy by 2040. Yes, if you live in Spain you’ll live longer than all others in the world. It has the weather, A LOT less stress, and the food is a Mediterranean diet. The best for heart health and cancer prevention. And if you do get sick, the health care here is top notch. Believe me, I know. Next time, I want to hold that up to the British, who are ranting about the people of the country they are lucky enough to be allowed to enjoy by the grace of the Spanish government, and shout.
‘Your culinary contribution to the world was boiled meat! You didn’t discover the existence of garlic until 1975. Suck it!’
I used to be very quiet about telling anyone I was an American when traveling. Our reputation in the world being what it is. But now whenever someone asks me if I’m from Inglaterra I make sure to tell them NOOO! I AM NOT. There’s a part of me that is hoping that some of the English can’t come to Spain after Brexit. They can go back to the UK. You know how the old saying goes ‘England. Not like Spain at all, and without all those lazy Spaniards.’ Sounds like heaven to them. Wonder what their life expectancy in the UK will be in 2040. Oh wait! I won’t really care because I’ll be living in Spain.
I am 52 years old. After several days at my parent’s house I feel the need to state it out loud. In fact, I’ve already told other people this since I’ve been here. I know it sounds strange but it’s necessary.
In Valencia, or when I’ve lived in any other city, I never felt the need to announce my age to virtual strangers. It’s not because I look older or younger than I am. It’s because other people just assumed I was an adult that could chew gum and tie my own shoes. Or find my own way home. But when I come back to Portland, to the city and the house where I grew up, it’s essential. As a reminder, even to me.
We were checking out at the bike shop the other day and my phone rang. It was my Mother wondering where I was – we had been gone from the house for 2 hours. We spoke and I hung up and turned back to the person who was helping us. She had heard my end of the conversation.
‘I’m 52.’ I told her with a smile.
She laughed. ‘Yeah, I’m 54. My Mom still calls me and wonders where I am. She lives in San Francisco.’
We finished our business and went back to pick up my parents for lunch. They were graciously taking us out for good barbecue – something we can’t get in Spain. I drove because my Mom has cataracts. She drives when I’m not here but that seems to be irrelevant, because from the back seat she told me what to do the entire time.
Now, I’m not talking directions here. It was as if I was 15, just learning to drive and she was ensuring I didn’t hit anything and actually stopped at red lights.
‘Now, you’ll want to slow down here and look to your left because traffic can come from there. Then you’ll want to look over your right shoulder because they’ll be merging traffic. Make sure you’re getting over but not too far over and increase your speed.’
Jeff was sitting next to her in the back. I could see his face in the rear view mirror and he was laughing so hard, knowing what I was thinking, he couldn’t look at me in mirror as his face turned bright red. My jaw was hanging open. Incredulous.
‘I’ve been driving for awhile now – you know. I got this.’ I told her.
‘Oh I know, but this area can be tricky.’ she told me seriously.
We got the restaurant and sat down. I tried not to say anything and Jeff kept his eyes glued to the menu. I looked over and my Mom was reading her menu when I noticed that her glasses were missing one of the lenses. I pointed it out to her.
‘Well, no wonder. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t see.’ she told me.
I sighed. Now I couldn’t be upset. Now I was more worried than frustrated. How she’s driving with her vision the way it is baffles me. It’s so bad she didn’t know she was missing a lens. I think she was telling me what to do and how to get there from memory.
But being here and being babied (cause I am the youngest in my family) has it’s upside. Before I arrived she had called me for special requests and stocked all my favorite comfort foods from childhood. Green jello and pears – always the go to when I was sick as a kid. She made spare ribs and her famous coleslaw. I say famous because it’s in the Nordstrom Family Cookbook sold in their cafe’s around the country under ‘Field Family Coleslaw.’ When I presented her with a copy of it for Christmas one year she was pretty happy. I made sure she got the attribution. This morning I snuck down and ate it at 4am. It’s just that good.
And she’s cooking up bacon and maple sausage every morning and I’m eating like a gluttonous king. An extra 5lbs will be heading back to Valencia with me I am very sure. So perhaps being 52 this week isn’t so important. Maybe it’s more about taking all the concern and care on board and cherishing it. Because I know it won’t be here forever. Someday I’ll wish my Mom was there to tell me how to drive her car and worry that I’m not home. And when that day comes I’ll whip up a batch of her coleslaw and say a little prayer. Grateful that even at my age, she still worried about me.
We took the high speed to Madrid from Valencia for our final days with Emilie before she went back to school. It cuts the travel time in half but still allows for beautiful views of wine, olives and this time of year, sunflower fields by the mile. All along the route it seemed the flowers were facing us with their sunny greetings. And the train station in Central Madrid is a botanical marvel itself.
I’ve not spent time in Madrid, other than to fly in and out. We are coastal people and interior cities that don’t boast a large body of water have never held sway with me for vacation destinations. But I must say, I LOVE MADRID! And now, so does Jeff. And we walked about 30 miles of the streets, parks and museums while we were there. It’s a city so rich with history and culture it nearly soaks into your skin through osmosis.
We stayed near the Prado on the edge of Sol. The neighborhood is old and the streets shady and narrow. Gran Via and Sol are where Earnest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, drank (ALOT!) and generally soaked up the Spanish way of life he loved so much. Cervantes lived around the corner from our hotel and wrote Don Quixote while living there. Walking the streets, there are quotes from famous residents memorialized in brass in the cobbles. Poets, novelists, musicians.
We spent an afternoon in the The Parque del Retiro. It’s and incredible place, built for strolling on a very hot Madrid summer afternoon. Shade abounds and every turn brings new discoveries. The lake (Estanque grande del Retiro) where boats can be rented reminds me of a family vacation to Versaille. Nothing like tooling around on the water on a summer day.
The park sports a now defunct zoo from Franco’s time. But the cages are still there. And peacocks by the dozens roam free with their babies. I had never seen a baby peacock before but, as Emilie found out, the mother’s are very protective.
Madrid has so many monuments recounting it’s rich history and it rivals Paris for military and artistic exploits, and it’s pride in celebrating them. But Madrid outpaces Paris in the ‘Let’s put monuments and statues on top of buildings’ category. Here, they win every time.
The streets nearby the Botanical Gardens are shut down on Sundays so everyone is out walking their dogs, strollers flying and exercising like it seems is the number one Spanish past time. Again, we need to start running if we’re going to keep up. Literally.
We spent some happy air conditioned hours in the Prado. I had never been and had always wanted to go. Caravaggio, Sorolla – Valencia’s native son, Velazquez, Poussin. They’re all there. Portraits of Charles V and his many wives and all the Bourbons and Infantiles of Portugal. And the statuary is impressive. I have, however, reinforced my feelings about Goya. On my darkest day I don’t think I have ever been as down as the images captured in his 14 painting dubbed ‘The Black Paintings’. My first exposure to him was at The Frick in NY and his work in the Prado did little to change my impression.
Our dinner on Saturday night was to DIE FOR! An Argentine meat place near our hotel called ‘La Cabana Argentina’. We’ve now had the best meal we’ve eaten since we moved to Spain five months ago. The meat was perfectly cooked and the sides were scrumptious. It smelled so good that just walking in we were salivating after a long hot day of seeing the city. The service was first rate and we left feeling like we’d gotten a great deal on dinner after spending more than we have on one meal since we left the US.
Finally, it was time to take Em to the airport. We had a couple of choices. A train for 2.50 from the main train station at Atocha. The Metro for 5 euros. Or a taxi for 30 euros. So we took the taxi. With everything else, I wasn’t up for the stress of trying to figure it all out for the first time, while making sure Emilie got to her flight on time. So Jeff and I took the train back after we checked her in and dropped her off at security. I shed more than a few tears. Emilie was her confident self taking it all in stride. Next time it will be a piece of cake navigating Madrid airport transport.
So now Emilie is safely ensconced back at school (I got her text in the middle of a sleepless night) and we’ve had a great final weekend and cultural excursion in Madrid as a family. And now we know it’s a city we want to see much more of. I guess, like Ernest Hemingway, we are falling in love with Spain more and more every time we turn a new corner.
Hell froze over today. Well, since it’s so bloody hot and humid I sort of wish it actually did, but our stuff ARRIVED at 1pm today. It actually came with a phone call and three guys who could not have been nicer. I paid for their lunch afterwards. I’m not a person who has ever held a grudge. Don’t have time for it so all that nonsense was in my rear view mirror 30 seconds after the first dolly load crossed our door step.
They found parking and unloaded in record time. As planned, we had them bring all the boxes and bikes up to our apartment and we put the sofa in our parking space in the garage. We needed to measure it before I schedule the crane service. I was on cloud nine watching them go back and forth. Emilie stayed down by the truck to make sure no one made off with any boxes while the guys were filling the lobby.
Seeing our things again was like reconnecting with old friends. And unpacking was so much fun! All my kitchen stuff that was of such interest to US Customs and Border control made it with only one glass pot lid that was shattered. All my Le Creuset – check. More of my Crate and Barrel dishes – yup. All our flatware and my box of odds and ends kitchen stuff. My beloved Vitamix made it. Jeff checked the amperage (I don’t even pretend to understand it) and it works on the electricity here. We just have to take it to a local place to get the plug/cord swapped out.
My pans are here too! And our golf clubs and bikes. Jeff’s computer stuff and his keyboard that he’s been waiting for. All the tools for his first love – the motorcycle. We spent the day unpacking boxes and washing things. Our bedding from home – sheets and towels that we could have bought locally but we loved them too much to leave behind. Then there were the more sentimental things. The things that, when you surround yourself with them, make you feel like you’re truly home.
Our refrigerator magnet collection from trips we took as a family. Jeff always hated how junky it made it look in an open plan kitchen. I loved the reminder of all the things we did together. Tonight, I put them all on the fridge and he came home and smiled. Emilie and I had fun reminiscing about each one and telling funny stories about where they were purchased and some crazy thing that happened.
The pictures came. Our wedding photo and some of the art that we had on the walls. Emilie unpacked the boxes in her room and it’s just about like it was in the US – only 5 times smaller. Her books, photos and all the small things that mean so much to her.
I unpacked the vacuum packed bags of our clothes and it seems we brought more than I remembered. I appears my ‘What if we ever…?’ philosophy might have gone a little too far. OK, if we ever go to Iceland again I have my Canada Goose parka and Jeff’s Mountain Hardwear parka. But living here I don’t think there will be a day that we’ll need either of those.
My most egregious and embarrassing miscalculation was my discovery that I had 5 full boxes of shoes that were just for me. Luckily, Jeff had run an errand when I pulled them out of the pile in the dining room. Yeah, I knew I had a problem anyway but today it was in my face and before Jeff got home I needed to find somewhere for 5 boxes of shoes in El Compartimiento. But where to put them? The only place I had to spare was in the kitchen Gabinete and I knew the minute he got hungry I’d be ratted out. Emilie just shook her head but she wasn’t one to talk. She had 2 boxes of shoes for herself – OK, I’m a baaad influence.
So I started pulling out drawers and cabinets. I was sweating and panicked. What the hell was I going to do? I looked around and then I remembered we have drawers under the bed we bought. And those drawers are mostly covered by the duvet. I knew Jeff was barely using his closet so he wouldn’t even think about the drawers under the bed. Sure enough, they were empty. But as I placed my shoes, boots and sandals lovingly into their new, hidden home, I started counting and, well, I’m just ridiculous. Who needs 5 pairs of high suede boots here? I brought 3 pairs of rubber boots! What was I thinking?
But that isn’t the capper. Tonight we went down to the garage after I was done unpacking the rest of the stuff and putting it away. I was feeling pretty proud of myself and my ability to cram things in every nook and hidden crannies. Organizing things for easy access later. Winter closet, stored. Yup, I was at the top of my organizational game. I hadn’t over packed afterall. I was a ‘just enough’ goddess.
I got into the elevator with a confident smug swagger that only a truly organized person pull off. Then we measured.
My beloved couch is 43 3/4 inches deep. I don’t care about the height because it passed that test. Our living room window is broken up into sections that are 43 inches. Not 44 inches – 43. And they can’t get any bigger, even if you take the windows out, because of the custom shutters that come down in tracks. So my couch won’t fit. So we went down and took all the wrapping from the move off and I actually talked to the couch.
‘Please couch – I know you’ve been through alot in the last 5 months but I need 3/4 of an inch – that’s all. Please give me 3/4 of an inch.’ I begged and pleaded.
Jeff measured again. I don’t think the couch was very forgiving after spending months in a container ship. It didn’t give up a millimeter. There will be no couch (at least not one from the US) inside El Compartimiento. With every victory, there is also defeat. I had gotten a little cocky with the shoes.
Tonight, Jeff is sporting his Keens, he’s smiling in a fresh pair of shorts and a shirt he hasn’t worn since February. That’s good enough for me.
In an effort to continue my journey in the Spanish language, and to make things easier, I have acquired a new Spanish tutor. He’s British but he is a fluent speaker. I’m pretty sure he will help me get back up on my kindergarten bicicletta with the Espanol training wheels.
I had fallen off after our horrible non-intensivo, intensivo class. And I had avoided getting back up. Sure, I have labeled everything in our house with their corresponding Spanish words. The delivery guys have found this amusing when they came in to deliver various things and pointed at my visual prompts taped to walls, light switches, chairs, windows – and laughed. But it’s working for me in a passive sort of ‘learning without trying’ kind of way.
But even I knew it couldn’t last. I would eventually have to jump back into the river (yeah, I’m mixing metaphors) and swim in Spanish language waters again. My new tutor seemed like a good choice since he spoke no Spanish 3 years ago and is now teaching Spanish to several people I know. I’ve watched their impressive progress, so we met and started off our new working relationship.
He also has a Valencian girlfriend – I’ll call her Marta – who is a chef. Her English and my Spanish are, if not equally as bad, they’re living in the same dodgy neighborhood. So she and I met with another friend of mine to do an ‘intercambio’. They have these little meet ups all over Valencia – usually at a bar – and they advertise for native English and Spanish speakers to get together over drinks and alternate speaking in each other’s languages. The theory is that everybody will get better.
Now I haven’t dated in decades. I never really knew how to do it anyway. Meeting a stranger, finding something to talk about, going to the bathroom and calling a friend asking them to call your phone in 10 minutes with some sort of emergency, and finally leaving. But at least it was in a language you knew. The attendance of one of the general ‘bar intercambio’ seemed too much like a speed date, but much, much harder. Finding a topic to discuss with someone you can barely communicate with over drinks in a dark location, then sifting through the your terribly limited vocab, stringing together sentences like a toddler and them moving on to the next person. And struggling to do it all again.
So Marta and my other friend and I decided to form our own group and avoid the bar scene. The upside of this is that Marta comes right from work and brings food. Amazing food. And she brings bags of it. So I got home last night after our intercambio bearing gifts. Jeff is starting to see the upside of my new found commitment to my Spanish studies.
We spent the first 15 minutes speaking Spanish – or my version of it. And then we did 15 minutes in English. I learned how to have rudimentary smack talk in Spanish about Germany losing in the World Cup. Adding to my vocabulary for things like ‘perdedor’, ‘juego’, ‘presumir’ and much more. And Marta learned how to talk about driving and parking in Valencia, all in English. She learned new words and phrases like ‘Son of a Bitch’ and ‘asshole’ and ‘line hugger’. Things that will stand her in good stead if she decides to drive in Los Angeles at rush hour, or tries to park her car on the street in San Francisco.
We’ve decided we’ll meet every Wednesday and help each other. Sure, I’ll learn a bunch of stuff and the meet ups are tasty. Perhaps I’ll even bring Emilie with me for a few of these get togethers, because I think she could use it too. Just now our apartment buzzer rang and Emilie answered it in the kitchen. After moment she held out the hand set to me and in a bored-teenager-tone said ‘It’s a Spanish person’. I was so astounded at her need to tell me that – and her apparent surprise that the person on the other end of the phone would be anything other than that – I broke out laughing.
But it’s not really funny. We need to be able to communicate much more effectively. And I think it’s time I took Emilie on the journey with me. Clearly, her new beach volleyball friends aren’t pushing her to use the little vocabulary she possesses. My goal is to be able to go to the Doctor with an interpreter and to get a newer version of our Padron in preparation for our driving license tests. If I can speak enough Spanish to accomplish that it will be major milestone. Or un hito importante!
I’m all about the good vibrations. And generally, I’ll try anything once – as long as it’s not going to potentially kill me or result in legal action. There hasn’t been one second in my life that I’ve thought I had all the answers. I’m always in awe of deeply religious people who truly believe they have it all figured out. How wonderful that would be to live in a state of certainty. Me? I’ve always been a skeptic but I think there’s something to energy that connects us all. I just have no idea how.
Last week, we heard about the Noche San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist Eve) from the guy who owns the local motorcycle supply shoppe. We were there picking up some stuff that we weren’t able to get in Germany last month and we got into a conversation with him – truly one of the nicest guys. Turns out he lives near us in the same area and is a native Valencian. He told us all kinds of local history and advised us on stuff we should do in the area and things we needed to experience. Some of which – when pressed – he admitted he’s never personally tried, like the festival of Tomatina. And that’s when he told us about the Eve of St. John the Baptist.
We’ve been to every festival since the day we arrived here, so it seemed that we should be open to this one too. The Eve of St. John is always held on June 23rd. It’s about the summer solstice (and the birth of St John) and it’s essentially ‘Out with the Old, In with the New’. A healthy sweep of all the bad energy collected over the winter, and making wishes and prayers for all good things. It’s huge in Catalonia and Valencia.
The way I look at it, it’s about leaving behind what you don’t like and asking for transformation. Well, I’m all in on stuff like that. I love transformations – especially when I can achieve that on my own – not to mention enjoying watching other people rise from their own personal ashes. So when he told us about this we made plans to be there.
I went to meet my new Spanish tutor Friday afternoon. My tutor, Rob, told me about it too and asked if we might like to join he and his girlfriend, Claudia, to experience it ourselves. It involves going down to the beach and waiting until midnight. Bonfires are set about every 10 meters and people write the things they want to leave behind on papers and then burn them in the fire. They also write their deepest hopes and also, burn them in the bonfire.
Then they go out into the water and jump over either 7 or 9 waves (it has to be an odd number) and make three wishes. The fire and the water are cleansing and restorative and the wishes will be granted. Some people walk on the hot coals but I figure they must be pretty drunk to do that. There would be fireworks at midnight – it’s Valencia so duh. Then people make sure they are awake when the sun comes up because the first rays of the sun on St. John’s day are a blessing. Seemed pretty straight forward, so we made plans to go and ‘Get there early because the beach will be packed’.
Jeff and Emilie and I went down to Patacona beach and staked out a spot in the location we were advised to. The beach was full and the police, fire department, and street cleaners (who outnumbered the other two combined) were already out in force. And it was very hot. And then, it was even hotter. Jeff started not looking well and we went up to a beach side cafe to get him something to eat and drink and he got very sick. Finally, I was concerned with the direction it was all going and I packed us up and got him home on the tram. Thank God it was air conditioned.
After a very cool shower and cold Aquarius water, he was doing better and wasn’t violently ill or alternately bright red and then grey anymore. And today, he’s just resting. So we didn’t get to experience Noche San Juan Bautista with the bonfires, except hearing the fireworks at midnight – but that’s every Saturday night here. We didn’t get to leave behind our papers in the fire or jump over the waves. But I didn’t want to risk reaching for something new at the sacrifice of Jeff.
So we’ll save Noche San Juan for next year. I mean, we’re going to need something new to experience in year 2 – right? I’ll throw salt over my shoulder or burn some sage or something. That will have to do in my nod to San Juan for this year. But I feel sure he’ll understand.
Oh yes. Back in the dark ages – well, the end of February, the movers came and took our stuff to Los Angeles. They had promised to put it all on a boat that would sail across the sea. How do I know this? Because I gave them a pile of money and signed a contract to that effect. What day is it today? Hmm, oh yeah, it’s June 7th. And where is my stuff? A question not even the Oracle at Delphi could answer lying in her sulfur fog in her stone mountain top temple.
The first indication that we might have an issue was about a month after arriving here in Valencia, the shipper in LA contacted me and asked me ‘for an inventory list’. WHAT?!? I asked them why they would be asking me for that since the movers made a list of what was in each box – because I had already numbered said boxes and made an inventory list for them. Well, they didn’t have it. So I sent them another copy and pictures of each of the number items I had taken with my cell phone before allowing them to be loaded.
Yes, I’m just that organized. Ok – paranoid. But it was our stuff. And we cared about it enough to ship it half way across the world, across oceans and through canals. You can see how my blood pressure might have gone up a bit. I conveyed my displeasure to the person who was doing the asking. ‘Was this what I paid all that money for?’ She never directly addressed the question but assured me that now she could ship our stuff.
What?!? They had picked it up a month before. Where the HELL had it been, if not in a container rapidly steaming it’s way towards me with dolphins riding the bow wave guiding to Valencia?? I was pissed. They said it had been stored until it was put on the boat with other containers. What could I do? Nothing – so I decided to drink a glass of wine and take 10 deep breaths. It worked for awhile.
Before we went to pick up Jeff’s bike in Germany at the beginning of May, I reached out to them again and asked when our stuff would be getting here. I didn’t want it to show up while we were in Germany. They assured me that it would be arriving on May 23rd to Valencia. The customs people would contact me and arrange the paperwork and delivery. Ugh – but fine. We booked our tickets to Germany and off we went.
The timing was good because Emilie was coming on the 19th. That would give her a couple of days to settle in before her stuff got here and we could spend days unpacking it all. The 23rd came and went – no call. So 7 days after the due date, I reached out again. No response. So, in my typical fashion I did a little digging and found the CEO’s email address and cc’d him on my next communication showing the string of untruths I had been told in the emails with these people going back to February. Voila! I got a response telling me our stuff was going to now arrive on June 12, saying they were sorry for the delay and all would be well. You can tell I felt much better. NOT!
Then an email came from a nice guy in Rotterdam in The Netherlands who told me he would be handling the customs paperwork for me when the shipment arrived in Rotterdam. AGAIN WHAT?!? I quietly asked my the HELL my stuff wold be arriving in Rotterdam since I live in SPAIN. And I paid to have my stuff shipped to VALENCIA. When was my stuff going to show up at my door in Valencia, since it was going to be all the way across Europe?
He assured me that they were going to truck it across the several countries between me and Holland and that process would start after it arrived in Rotterdam on June 12th. He as very cheerful. So cheerful that I couldn’t be angry at him because he had nothing to do with the entire thing. And because I need him – a man with so many vowels in his name that when I email him I have no idea if I’m actually spelling it correctly.
So I filled out the forms he sent me and sent them back. Now I’m waiting – hoping – praying, that our stuff will actually get to Rotterdam. A city I never wanted it to go to. And that the richly voweled guy will take care of it and get it here, so I can discover whether my couch can be craned into the living room window on the 7th floor.
Here’s the lesson. If you move to another country – store you stuff in your old country. Put it in storage and happily pay for it. Because, when you get to your new country, you will have to buy stuff to get by while you’re waiting for your old stuff to arrive – thus creating duplicate possessions, like a tea pot and a frying pan. So when your stuff, after making it, apparently, through every port between Los Angles and Rotterdam, finally arrives you won’t actually need that crap cause you’ve already bought that crap – again.
After all this, I swear if that couch doesn’t fit through the window I’m going to put it out on the sidewalk and just sleep there. It will be summer – if they’re not lying and it gets here by July 1st. I could live off the orange trees lining the street. The weather will be lovely, and I might just meet more of my neighbors and make some new friends. I’ll put my feet up, watch YouTube videos on my phone and drink some Sangria on the sidewalk. The street cleaners can wake me in the morning when they come around. But I’ll have earned it. I will have waited 4 months for that couch – too large though it might very well be. But its mine, and perhaps, like me, a little worse for wear but still, all mine.
This weekend was the culmination of the fiesta of Corpus Christi. It represents the 60 days after Easter and is chock full of traditions that are ruckus and confusing. We have no idea what so much of it means or why they’re doing it at all. Luckily, some of it was described to us while it was happening. But some of it was just experienced. We have no clue what that part represents.
Around noon, we walked through the square near the church and discovered a large crowd. Some of the people were crowded around a woman dressed in a fancy white dress. She wore a mask, so her face was obscured, and her head was covered in a veil. Sort of like a scary bride in Phantom of the Opera.
A bit out in front of the church was a group of children dancing in various costumes depicting both the moors and others. We watched their performance (apologies for my short arms so the video is as good as I could get) and then saw the crowd surge down the street and lots of shouting. Of course, I had to follow the noise and plunge in.
Looking up, there were people standing on balconies. Over the heads of the crowd, I could see men waving clubs and shouting at the people on the balconies. Then the people on the balconies began shooting water at the men with the clubs and dumping large buckets of water on them and the crowd. Shouting and cheers were going up as the water hit home. Madness.
Then the men with the clubs, dressed in sack cloth and with their heads covered in leaves and their faces and bodies painted, passed by me and I was conked on the head as I recorded their trek. Why was all this going on? Again, no real idea. But it was really funny and the people seemed to love getting wet.
Later that evening was the procession. They put up chairs lining the route and you can pay 3,50 euros to claim a front row seat. We chose this as the procession is a long one. The man sitting next too Jeff explained some of what we were seeing. Again, the woman in the bride costume showed up and was accompanies by 7 men with black veils. These are the 7 deadly sins that tempt.
The procession included the Eucharist carriages we had seen last week pulled by costumed ponies, and ALOT of little girls in white dresses marching in commemoration of their first communion. I’m surmising that the woman in the veil with the 7 deadly sins have something to do with being a physical manifestation of what can happen if one’s heart doesn’t remain pure and temptation creeps in.
We met some new friends at this parade. Some we’ll keep in touch with. I’m excited that we have been able to participate in so many fiestas so far and it makes us feel more part of the community. And many of these happen on the weekend that it makes it easier to participate and enjoy.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain